06/17/2022 Turkey (International Christian Concern) – CCTV video footage shows several Muslims attacking an Assyrian Christian family in Turkey’s Mardin village. After the attackers beat the family with sticks, they set their wheat fields on fire. The Yilmaz family members are the only remaining Christians living in the area, and the attack occurred at the end of Sunday service on June 5.
According to reports, approximately 50 Muslims were involved in the attack. The incident took place on the same day that priests traveled to the village to lead mass and inaugurate the Mor Gevargis Church after restoration work began in 2015. The church had reportedly been closed for 100 years, a timeline which means that the church was impacted by the genocide against Christians in Turkey during the early 20th century.
The family told Asia News, “They threatened us, saying that they would not allow us to live in the village. But we are not scared. We will continue to stay here.”
A pastor who attended the reopening ceremony shared with local news, “When we got home, we learned that there was a land dispute with the Yılmaz family; someone from the family came and this issue was brought up again in the conversations at home, and a discussion broke out. We prevented the discussion from escalating, but shortly after the person in question left the house, there was an attack on the house with stones and sticks.”
Some observers of the incident related that the core of this situation is a property dispute. These types of disputes have a long history in Mardin. The genocide removed most Christians living in the region, which in turn created new challenges related to property maintenance and titled ownership of churches and the surrounding land.
The State Department noted in its 2020 Religious Freedom Report that “U.S. government officials urged the government to implement reforms aimed at lifting restrictions on religious groups and raised the issue of property restitution and restoration. Embassy staff continued to press for the restitution of church properties expropriated in Diyarbakir and Mardin.”
In its most recent annual report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended that Turkey be placed on the Special Watch List for religious freedom violators.
Jeff King, ICC’s president, said, “The pressures faced by Christians living in eastern Turkey can be quite significant. Today, many families are the only Christians left in their village, whereas the village used to be entirely or significantly Christian before the genocide. As a result, they often come under pressure from their neighbors. Sometimes, this takes the form of a land dispute; sometimes, it takes the form of more direct violence. Regardless, the churches in the area stand as a testimony to the Christian presence which once thrived. And today, it is clear that Christians in eastern Turkey are not thriving.”